Sleep-related eating disorder (SRED)

Sleep-Related Eating Disorder (SRED)

Sleep-related eating disorder (SRED), or nocturnal sleep-related eating disorder (NS-RED), is a relatively uncommon but potentially serious sleep disorder that combines sleepwalking and disordered eating elements. Individuals with SRED engage in episodes of eating during the night, often with little to no awareness or memory of their actions. This disorder can significantly impact an individual’s physical and psychological well-being, making understanding its signs, causes, diagnosis, and available treatments essential.

Signs and Symptoms

Identifying the signs and symptoms of SRED is crucial for early intervention and treatment. Here are some common indicators:

  • Nighttime Eating Episodes: The hallmark of SRED is food consumption during sleep. These episodes typically occur in the first half of the night and can vary in frequency and duration. Individuals may eat various foods, including unusual or non-food items like raw or inedible substances.
  • Amnesia: After waking up in the morning, individuals with SRED often have little to no memory of their nighttime eating episodes. This amnesia can lead to confusion, shame, and guilt.
  • Inappropriate Food Choices: During SRED episodes, individuals tend to make poor food choices, often selecting high-calorie, sugary, or fatty foods they might avoid during their waking hours. This can contribute to weight gain and overall health issues.
  • Evidence of Nighttime Eating: Crumbs, food wrappers, or dirty dishes near the bed or kitchen can indicate SRED. Loved ones may notice these signs before the affected individual does.
  • Sleep Disruption: SRED can lead to disrupted sleep patterns, as nighttime eating episodes can cause awakenings, leading to poor sleep quality.

Causes and Risk Factors of Sleep-Related Eating Disorder

The exact causes of SRED are not fully understood, but several factors and conditions may contribute to its development:

  • Sleep Disorders: SRED often co-occurs with other sleep disorders, such as sleepwalking, restless legs syndrome, and sleep apnea.
  • Stress and Anxiety: Extreme stress and anxiety levels may trigger or exacerbate SRED episodes. Stress can disrupt standard sleep patterns and lead to disordered eating behaviors.
  • Medications: Certain medications, particularly those that affect sleep or appetite, have been linked to the development of SRED. These may include sedatives, hypnotics, and antidepressants.
  • Genetics: There may be a genetic predisposition to SRED, as it runs in families.
  • Hormonal Changes: Fluctuations in hormones, such as leptin and ghrelin, which regulate appetite, could contribute to SRED.

Diagnosis of Sleep-Related Eating Disorder

Diagnosing SRED can be challenging because the episodes occur during sleep, and the affected individuals often have no recollection of their nighttime eating behaviors. To arrive at a proper diagnosis, healthcare providers typically follow these steps:

  • Clinical Evaluation: A thorough medical and psychiatric evaluation is necessary to rule out other potential causes of disordered eating or sleep disturbances.
  • Sleep Study (Polysomnography): Overnight monitoring in a sleep laboratory can help identify episodes of sleep-related eating. This involves recording brain activity, eye movement, muscle tone, and other physiological measures during sleep.
  • Food Diary: A detailed food diary can provide evidence of nighttime eating episodes and help the diagnostic process.
  • Psychological Assessment: Psychological assessments, including interviews and questionnaires, may be conducted to evaluate any underlying mental health conditions or stressors contributing to SRED.

Preventive Measures and Treatment Plans

Once diagnosed, the management of SRED involves a combination of preventive measures and treatment options:

  • Sleep Hygiene: Maintaining good sleep hygiene practices, such as a comfortable sleep environment and avoiding stimulants before going to sleep, can help reduce the occurrence of nighttime eating episodes.
  • Medication Review: If medications are suspected to cause SRED, a healthcare provider may consider adjusting or discontinuing them, but this should be done under medical supervision.
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT):CBT, particularly CBT for insomnia (CBT-I), has shown promise in treating SRED. It can help individuals manage anxiety, stress, and disordered eating behaviors.
  • Pharmacotherapy: In some cases, medications like topiramate, an antiepileptic drug, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be prescribed to help control SRED symptoms. However, their efficacy can vary among individuals.
  • Supportive Environment: Family and friends can play a vital role in supporting individuals with SRED. They can help create a safe sleeping environment and encourage treatment adherence.
  • Nutritional Counseling: Seeking guidance from a registered dietitian can help maintain a healthy eating habit and manage weight gain resulting from SRED.
  • Monitoring and Follow-up: Regular follow-up with healthcare providers is crucial to track progress, adjust treatment plans as needed, and provide ongoing support.


 In conclusion, Sleep-Related Eating Disorder is a complex sleep disorder that combines sleepwalking and disordered eating elements. While relatively rare, it can significantly impact an individual’s physical and mental health. Recognizing the signs, understanding potential causes, and seeking appropriate diagnosis and treatment are essential steps in managing SRED effectively. With the right interventions, individuals can regain control over their nighttime eating behaviors and improve their overall quality of life. Suppose you or someone you know is struggling with SRED. Consulting a healthcare professional for guidance and support is essential in that case.








Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Sleep-Related Eating Disorder (SRED)

  1. What is Sleep-Related Eating Disorder (SRED)?
  • Sleep-Related Eating Disorder (SRED) is a sleep disorder characterized by abnormal eating behaviors during sleep. People with SRED will eat while they are asleep, often consuming large quantities of food. They typically have little or no memory of these episodes when they wake up.
  1. What Are the Symptoms of SRED?
  • Common symptoms of SRED include eating during the night, consuming unusual or non-food items, and experiencing weight gain or obesity due to excessive nighttime eating. Individuals with SRED may also exhibit sleepwalking behaviors.
  1. What Causes Sleep-Related Eating Disorder?
  • The exact cause of SRED is not well understood, but it may be related to disruptions in the sleep-wake cycle and alterations in brain activity during sleep. Certain factors like stress, medications, and underlying sleep disorders can contribute to SRED.
  1. How is SRED Diagnosed?
  • Diagnosis of SRED typically involves a thorough evaluation by a sleep specialist. A sleep study called polysomnography may be conducted to monitor the individual’s sleep patterns and eating behaviors during the night.
  1. What Treatments Are Available for SRED?
  • Treatment for SRED may include addressing any underlying sleep disorders, modifying medications that could contribute to the disorder, and implementing behavioral therapy. In some cases, medications such as benzodiazepines may be prescribed to reduce nighttime eating episodes.
  1. Is SRED a Serious Condition?
  • Yes, SRED can have significant health consequences, including weight gain, nutritional imbalances, and disrupted sleep patterns. It’s essential to seek diagnosis and treatment from a healthcare professional if you suspect you have SRED.
  1. Can SRED be Prevented?
  • While there is no guaranteed way to prevent SRED, managing stress, maintaining a regular sleep schedule, and avoiding alcohol or sleep-affecting medications before bedtime may reduce the risk of developing this disorder.